TORRANCE, Calif. -- Jury selection began today in the trial of Lawrence Bittaker, a 40-year-old Burbank machinist charged with the torture sex-slayings of five teen-age girls.
At the start of the court session, Superior Court Judge Thomas Fredericks denied defense motions to move the trial out of Los Angeles County and to prevent the prosecution from playing a tape recording allegedly made as one of the victims pleaded for her life.
Bittaker, who reportedly boasted of the grisly killings and told fellow inmates he wanted to be 'bigger than Manson,' is charged with the murder, kidnap and rape of Lucinda Schaefer, 16, Jaqueline Leah Lamp, 13, Jackie Doris Gilliam, 15, Shirley Linett Ledford, 16, and Andrea Joy Hall, 18.
His trial was scheduled to begin this morning in Superior Court.
The chief witness against Bittaker is his alleged accomplice, Roy Lewis Norris, 32, who has already pleaded guilty to five murders and has agreed to testify against Bittaker to escape a possible death sentence.
Norris has testified the two men abducted most of the victims while they were hitchhiking. They then raped their victims repeatedly, tortured them and strangled them by twisting wire coat hangers around their necks with a pair of pliers.
One of the young victims reportedly had an ice pick plunged into her brain.
Norris reportedly made a 20-minute tape recording of Miss Ledford's frantic screams for mercy as she was tortured and killed.
In addition to Norris' testimony, several of Bittaker's fellow inmates have testified at preliminary hearings that Bittaker talked boldly about the crimes.
Inmate David Lambert testified that Bittaker had him draw sketches on their cell wall of a nude girl with pliers attached to several portions of her body.
A pair of pliers dripping blood were drawn near Bittaker's signature, Lambert said, with autographs saying, 'Death always' and 'Hitchhikers welcome, females especially.' Jailhouse autographs given to inmates were signed, 'Pliers Bittaker.'
Lambert said Bittaker once told him he would be famous, 'bigger than Manson.'
Another inmate, William Schenley, testified that Bittaker talked about how he raped and murdered Miss Schaefer, then dumped her body off a mountain cliff so 'the police would never find her, not even a helicopter.'
Inmate Anthony Cornejo testified that Bittaker told him that he and Norris forced Miss Schaefer to scream while they killed her and made a tape recording 'of the things they had done to her.'
The bodies of Miss Schaefer and Miss Hall have not been found.